Pre-Budget Analysis: Who Is Responsible for 85% of India's Infertile Farmland?

Dr. Rajaram Tripathi, National Convener, All India Farmers Federation (AIFA)
Dr. Rajaram Tripathi, National Convener, All India Farmers Federation (AIFA)

Key Facts:

  • 85% of India's farmland (120 million hectares out of 142 million hectares) is suffering from declining productivity: National Soil Survey and Land Use Planning Bureau

  • Is "technical fatigue" in agriculture a reality or an excuse?

  • Only 0.01% of toxic pesticides reach the target pests, while 99.99% contaminate the environment: David Pimentel, Cornell University,

  • High-cost solutions like polyhouses, hydroponics, and drones are burdening farmers instead of increasing their income: Dr. Rajaram (AIFA)

  • Over 20 million farmers have quit farming in the last two years, driven by toxic fertilizers, pesticides, and GM seeds: Dr. Rajaram Tripathi (AIFA)

A new government has taken charge, but in the past five years, farmers have been persistently agitating for various reasons. However, this article will neither discuss these agitations nor blame any government. Instead, it aims to provide an unbiased and comprehensive assessment of the current state and direction of Indian agriculture.

Beyond the fluctuating statistics of food grain production, the harsh reality is that farming has become a loss-making venture. Farmers are increasingly distressed due to rising agricultural costs, uncertainty in yield quantity and quality, and the inability to obtain fair and remunerative prices for their produce. This distress has led to over 20 million farmers abandoning farming in the last two years.

The rampant use of chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, and GM seeds has pitted agriculture against the environment, soil, and humanity itself. These toxic chemicals have not only polluted the environment but have also posed severe health risks to humans. Pesticides are introducing new forms of devastation for farmers, which some agricultural scientists label as "technical fatigue" - a term perhaps coined to mask technical failures.

Are Imported Agricultural Technologies a Boon or Burden for Indian Farmers?

Recently, the government has been promoting high-tech farming methods like drones, polyhouses, greenhouses, and hydroponics, offering substantial subsidies for these technologies. However, these subsidies often entrap naive farmers with promises of high returns, leading them into the web of subsidies and bank loans. Poor-quality materials provided at exorbitant prices further exacerbate the farmers' woes. Many farmers, unable to understand the technical specifications and quality standards, fall prey to this trap, leading to increased debt and eventual ruin.

For instance, polyhouses are touted as a profitable venture, but many farmers end up with substandard structures that collapse during the first or second monsoon. The agents, manufacturers, and subsidy officers profit immensely, leaving the farmers to bear the losses. This blind imitation of foreign high-tech farming methods without considering local conditions is causing significant harm to both the government and farmers.

The Ill Effects of the Green Revolution or Just a "Technical Fatigue" Excuse?

The link between food grain production and population is direct. To feed the burgeoning population, India launched the Green Revolution in 1966-67, advocating for increased use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Initially, this led to higher yields, but over the decades, it has caused significant environmental degradation and soil infertility.

Despite the apparent short-term success, the long-term consequences are dire. The excessive use of groundwater has led to critical depletion levels, especially in states like Punjab, where groundwater exploitation has reached alarming levels. In Uttar Pradesh, several blocks have been identified as over-exploited due to intensive irrigation practices. The National Soil Survey and Land Use Planning Bureau estimates that 120 million hectares of India's agricultural land are suffering from productivity loss due to various factors.

Agriculture and Water: A Tragic Tale

India has not learned from its continuous mistakes regarding water management. Groundwater levels in many states are critically low, and the situation is worsening. In Punjab, for example, 108 out of 138 blocks are in the dark zone concerning groundwater levels. Similar distress is observed in Uttar Pradesh, where excessive water extraction for crops like sugarcane is making the land infertile.

Agriculture and Chemical Fertilizers

For years, the narrative was that chemical fertilizers are essential for increasing crop yields. Initially, they did boost productivity, but over time, they have rendered the soil diseased and infertile. The environmental destruction is evident, but the continued push for chemical fertilizers has exacerbated the problem. Studies now show that areas with lower fertilizer consumption have higher yields, contradicting the long-held belief in their necessity.

Pesticide application has become an integral part of modern farming, driven by the development of pest-attracting dwarf varieties. Despite evidence from Cornell University's David Pimentel that only a minuscule fraction of pesticides reach the target pests, their use has continued unabated, causing widespread environmental contamination.

Need for a Paradigm Shift

The current crisis in rural India is a result of short-term agricultural techniques with no regard for long-term social and environmental impacts. It is imperative to review these techniques and consider sustainable alternatives. Blindly importing foreign technologies has proven detrimental to Indian farmers, leading to increased debt and financial instability.

Indian agriculture is at a critical juncture, but it also presents an opportunity. By identifying the root causes of the current crisis and developing sustainable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly farming techniques, we can secure a prosperous future for India's farmers. This requires collective efforts to promote indigenous innovations and support farmers in adopting these sustainable practices.

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